What’s cuter than a puppy? Very few things, that’s for sure! Raising a puppy, just like raising a toddler, is equal parts rewarding and exhausting. Play biting or mouthiness is a common problem for puppy owners that can get out of hand as the dog gets older but can easily be addressed with a few consistent responses. Since biting is an inevitable truth with any dog, this is an important lesson for every dog and their families.
What play biting isn’t
Play biting is most commonly mistaken for teething. The difference between the two is play biting is something that happens during social play and comes in short bursts of biting. You’ll know your puppy is teething when they are quietly sitting there chewing or gnawing, usually on something they shouldn’t!
Biting is a form of dog-dog communication that’s learned when the puppy plays with its littermates. When the action gets a little too heated and someone gets hurt they’ll yelp out in pain and stop playing with the meanie who bit too hard.
Puppies use this social withdrawal to teach other puppies how hard they can bite without causing pain or damage. This is called bite inhibition and it’s why it is so important that puppies are not separated from their litter before they’re 7-8 weeks old. Since bite inhibition is learned through rough play, it’s vital that anyone watching the puppies play not interfere with playtime.
How to Stop Play Biting
Of course, preventative measures are always something to highlight right off the bat. If you are going to buy a dog from a breeder always be sure that the breeder provides a good standard of care for their animals and never take a puppy home that is younger than 7-8 weeks.
This kind of preventative measure isn’t always possible when adopting a puppy from a shelter. Because of health concerns for dogs spending any amount of time in shelters, most prefer to adopt out animals as soon as possible to reduce their likelihood of infection. This goes for puppies too despite how young they are when they leave the litter.
Once you have your puppy home, set them up to succeed! These three things can make or break the rest of your puppy’s play biting training.
- Playtime should be a social event full of social learning and appropriate oral stimulation. A great way to stimulate your puppy’s need to bite during play is to play tug of war and fetch (even if the actual fetching of the object is lost on them!).
- Provide teething toys that are safe for puppy to chew on. Doing this won’t directly help with play biting, but it will limit their need for oral stimulation.
- Never allow mouthy behavior. Allowing it even one time every few sessions is enough to encourage the behavior. Don’t allow your puppy to bite or nibble anything inappropriate, especially anything on a human (hands, feet, shoes, clothes). This is probably the MOST important rule your puppy will have growing up since most people misinterpret mouthy adults as biters. Take this step seriously now so you don’t have any biting accidents later.
Odds and Ends
- Always stop playing with the puppy as soon as they bite. It’s important to be very quick with your response.
- Be sure that all interactions between children and the puppy are supervised. Kids aren’t quick or assertive enough to keep up the strict no mouthing policy.
- Always play with appropriate toys. Toys should always be something your dog can have in his or her mouth and chew on without getting in trouble. This is obviously not the case for your arms, hands and feet. I know I already mentioned this, but it’s the most common reason for out of control mouthiness.
- Don’t allow your puppy to get your attention with play biting. Say “No” or “Off” (you could also yipe like a littermate) to interrupt the bite and turn away or leave the room. You need your pup to understand that biting gets him nowhere.
- Leave the room long enough for your puppy to be confused by your absence. You are utilizing social withdrawal (just like their littermates), so be sure to withdraw long enough for it work. Around 2-3 minutes should be sufficient, but take the temperature of your puppy to be sure it’s not too long or too short.
- Don’t pick the puppy up to remove them from the room since it can be misinterpreted as play and won’t discourage the biting.
- Never physically punish your puppy. Punishments can cause anxiety and turn what was play biting into fearful or even aggressive biting. It can also cause your puppy to get even more riled up and bite more.
- If biting doesn’t stop after 1-2 weeks of consistent training try a head halter to help redirect your puppy from biting – and any other bad behavior – and reward them for whatever you directed them to.
*Rest assured that your puppy isn’t play biting so they can dominate or control you. It’s a normal part of canine communication that needs to be learned. It’s a lot like volume control in kids, they need to learn from others when they are being too loud. They aren’t yelling at you to intimidate you.